Across the West: Oregon to Montana, “The Last Best Place”*

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Cousin Betty Jean Hackman on the Castle Mountain Ranch, where she lived until age 12


On Saturday, July 15, I flew to Phoenix (first time at the splendidly-named Sky Harbor Airport in 23 years) and on to Medford, in southwestern Oregon.  It was so wonderful to fly over, and then be back in, The West.  Looking down on the endlessly varied landscapes, I was slack-jawed, mouth agape.  I was once again smitten with the region.


Scenes from the dry West: northeastern Arizona, irrigated valley, the edge of Phoenix


Like an atomic bomb: this cloud was part of an isolated cell that visited torrential rain on Arizona; remarkably, the latent energy in these clouds is equivalent to that from a nuclear blast. Nature is powerful.


From the wetter West: the Sierra Nevada after a snowy winter; Lake Tahoe at left, and Mount Shasta

My brother Jim and sister-in-law Pam welcomed me to Oregon, hugs and kisses.  It had been way too long, eight years, since I had been out to see them.  On my first visit in 1999, I thought it was scenic.  A decade later, 2009, it seemed more beautiful, and as we descended and drove from the airport I thought it lovelier still.  Gentle, green-clad mountains, vineyards, golden fields and grass.  It’s a Mediterranean climate, hot and dry on summer days and cool enough to open the windows by 9 pm.

We made fast for Frau Kemmling’s Schoolhouse Brewhouse, a German restaurant in a former (1908) school in Jacksonville, a town of about 2,500 six miles west of Medford (which has about 200,000 in the metro area).  J’ville, as locals call it, is a pleasant historic mining and timber town, which began with gold fever in 1851-52.  We sat in the beer garden and had some brew, a nice meal, and a lot of splendid talk.  My brother and I had been talking about a road trip to our father’s Montana roots, and it was about to happen.  We were bouncing up and down with excitement.  Drove a few miles south to their wonderful house in the country, climbing 500 feet in elevation.  Ate a cookie and promptly fell asleep just after nine.

Up before sunrise the next morning, downstairs for coffee, then a good yak with Jim and a pancake breakfast.  Helped Jim clean the gutters, then hopped in the car, down the hill for a walk around town, starting in the historic Jacksonville cemetery, and on through some pleasant residential areas.  Back home, I did another chore, trimming the merlot and syrah grapevines in his terraced back yard (each fall he harvests a few pounds of grapes).  Ate a light lunch, took a nap, pretty much chilled in preparation for two long days of driving.  We had a couple of beers on the patio, and Pam brought out some family photo albums, which were great fun.  I can relate to her late parents: mom Bea was a stewardess (as they were called back in the day) on DC-3s, when she met dad Paul, who Western Airlines hired in 1952 and kept on until mandatory retirement at 60 in 1995 – 43 years of flying, the last ten or so after Delta bought WAL.  Had a lovely meal of pasta and salad, walked the yard a bit, and was asleep early, so excited to be heading on the road.

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Scenes from the Brittons’ backyard: doe and fawns, laurel bark, a tiny vineyard

I kept telling Jim and Pam “You’re so fortunate to live here,” but every time I made that remark it failed to register.  For locals, there’s no comparator.  But there is for me.


Hummingbirds at dinner; Jim and Pam feed lots of winged friends

Up before six, cup of coffee, nice cooked breakfast (thanks, Jim!), then out the door at 8:30.  The day 1 drive was long but wonderful, 520 miles through a range of landscapes to Boise, Idaho.  Started out climbing a pass over the Cascades and into the Klamath Valley.  We stopped briefly at the Running Y Ranch, a lovely planned development on the south shore of the huge Klamath Lake.  Jim showed me the wonderful building lot Pam and he bought, and on which they hope to build a house.  Really cool place.

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One of the only clear snaps from two days of driving: Mount McLoughlin in the Cascade Range

A little detour: as a geographer, I have long enjoyed snapping photos along the way, but my brother, although also a geographer, seemed to want to make time, so, alas there are almost no photos to post on the blog from two days of driving across spectacular country.

We skirted Klamath Falls.  I thought once you were east of the Cascades you were into flat country, but we rose and dropped over at least half a dozen mountain passes as we headed east-northeast.  And there were spectacular sites, like the huge Lake Abert and the Malheur River Valley.  We crossed the Snake River and entered Idaho, onto Interstate 84, and into Boise.  Jim booked a room right at the Boise Airport, figuring I’d like the sounds of nearby jets.  We were worn out, and, happily, a basic eatery was right across the street.  Ambled across, tucked into a big meal and a local brew, and clocked out.

Up Tuesday, out the door, back onto Interstate 84 southeast to Mountain Home, quick breakfast, then east on U.S. Highway 20.  Again we were climbing passes and descending into irrigated green valleys, across southern Idaho, through Arco, past the Idaho National (nuclear) Laboratory, around Rexburg.  That day and before, I was reminded many times that in the West water is everything; folks in the well-watered Eastern part of the nation – including lots of leaders in Washington – fail to understand that basic reality of life.


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Roadside spring near West Yellowstone, Montana

Just past noon the jagged “teeth” of the Tetons poked out of the eastern horizon.  Started climbing, up and up and into Montana just west of West Yellowstone.  So I could gawk, Jim drove the last 90 miles to Bozeman, down the spectacular Gallatin River Valley.  We were in our motel room by 4:15, showers, relaxing after another 460 miles.  An hour later, we were out the door and across a splendid college town (Montana State University) to the Bozeman Brewing Company, the city’s oldest craft brewer (since 2001!).  Had a great T-t-S with John, the taproom manager, and tucked into a pint of splendid IPA.


At seven we were at the front door of our cousin Betty Hackmann (nee Britton, b. 1945), who I had not seen in more than half a century.  She showed us around her house, which brims with her art and that of others.  Enjoyed a nice dinner and the start of catching up, as well as learning from her recollection of Britton family history.  It got complicated early on: in 1918 our ne’er-do-well paternal grandfather Albert abandoned his wife and four kids (Betty’s dad Harold, then 16, Constance, 14, Mildred, 8, and our dad Clifford, 4).  Constance stayed in Montana, but about a decade later grandmother Florence, Harold, Mildred, and dad moved east to Sioux City.  Harold soon returned to Montana and the other three went on to Chicago, where they were able to move out of poverty and into some modicum of comfort.  We’ve lost track of Constance, but Harold went on to manage a big Montana cattle ranch (more on that in a moment) and more.  It was a great evening.

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Cousin Betty in her basement art and photo studio

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Uncle Harold, fearless bronc rider, 1922

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There’s a reason they call Montana “Big Sky Country”!

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Our motel “beacon”

Wednesday, July 19, was as full and wonderful a day as I’ve had in a long time.  Jim and I were up by seven, breakfast, and back over to Cousin Betty’s.  I hopped in Betty’s big Ford and Jim followed behind, motoring north out of Bozeman into the Bridger Mountains toward Betty’s hometown of White Sulphur Springs, seat of Meagher (pronounced “Marr”) County, population 900.  First stop was the cemetery, to see the graves of Uncle Harold (1902-1975) and Aunt Dorothy (1909-2001).

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The Bridger Mountains, above and below


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Just before 11, we introduced ourselves to Bev Fryer, co-manager of the Castle Mountain Ranch, the huge spread that Uncle Harold managed from 1932 to 1957, and that we last visited in 1956.  More than six decades later, memories of that visit are still fresh in my mind: the cookhouse where we ate with the cowboys, Bertha the cook, fearlessly riding a horse at age four (the last time I felt confident on one), and more.  The low hills above the ranch were just as I remembered.


On the ranch, 1956


We learned a lot about Bev and Ed that day.  They were both from the foothills of the Beartooth Mountains in south-central Montana, and had been ranchers since graduating from Montana State in the 1970s.  Their first jobs sounded spare, working on a ranch called the Flying D, south and west in the Gallatin Valley (Bev referred to those years as “BB,” and I immediately grabbed the reference – CNN founder Ted Turner bought the spread and they were there before Ted’s bison).  They had been at Castle Mountain for 20 years.

We hopped in Bev’s red Suburban and headed out for a look around just a small part of the ranch.  Bev told us they tended 3000 cows and 1500 yearlings across tens of thousands of acres.  Although they’ve made “modern” improvements in irrigation, watering, hay cultivation, and such, old-school practices remain: they still use draft horses for winter feeding (“saves on fuel and they always start on cold mornings,” said Bev).  Several hundred elk roam the ranch, and Bev was proud of their stewardship of those majestic wild beasts.  Paying off the remark above about lean years early in their marriage, she said “back then, when we were young and starting out, we hunted elk, it was our only meat.”

We caught up with Ed, who was running a very cool hay-bale stacker.  When you’re putting up winter forage for a big herd, you need lots of hay, and we watched Ed drive a Stinger hay stacker and mover, lifting enormous bales that weigh 750 pounds and are equal to the 10 smaller bales I remember stacking when I worked summers on the Kellys’ dairy farm in Wisconsin.  Ed motored the Stinger toward us, parked, and we met.

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Above and below: scenes from Castle Mountain Ranch

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Bev, Ed, Betty, Jim, and I headed into White Sulphur Springs for lunch.  Ed’s first choice was packed, so we drove on to the Branding Iron.  Ed and Bev knew lots of folks in for lunch, and Betty said hello to a few.  I reckoned it would be disloyal to order anything other than beef, and I tucked into a wonderful hot roast beef sandwich with mashed potatoes and lots of rich gravy.  We yakked about a lot of stuff, including the Fryers’ two boys, one still on the ranch, and the other not far away after many years of working in Geneva and Shanghai for Cargill, the grain trader and processor.  Like my late Wisconsin farm friends David and Katherine, these were people rooted to the land, but wordly, too.

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Bev and Ed Fryer; next time you tuck into a burger or steak, tip your hat their way!

For the three days that we were in farm and ranch country in three states, I kept thinking about the hard and precarious life of people who work the land.  I have long understood and respected them – a perspective more city people and politicians need to embrace (for just a glimpse of that life and work, take a look at this video of winter on the ranch).  At the end of the meal, I looked Ed in the eye and told him how thankful I was for what he and Bev did every day.  As expected, he was modest, and thoughtful in his reply: “Well, Rob, we are grateful for consumers like you; we need you as well.”

After lunch, we drove back with Bev to the ranch, and said goodbye.  Jim and I checked into the motel (our home for the next three nights), said goodbye to Betty, and took a short nap.  At five motored into town to the 2 Basset Brewery, a microbrewery Jim found on the Internet.  What a place!  In no time we met co-owner Barry Hedrich and his daughter Molly, who had just finished nursing school and landed a job in the neurosurgery unit at the Mayo Clinic.   We had a long T-t-S yak with Carter, a retired dispatcher from Montana Rail Link, a mid-size railway in the state.  We enjoyed two pints of some seriously good beer.  And of course we asked Barry and Molly about the brewery namesakes, Leroy and Stanley, learning that they don’t much like to visit in the heat of the afternoon (we met them two days later, in early morning).  Refreshed, we drove back to the Branding Iron for a light dinner and clocked out early, way tired from a splendid day.


Happy scenes from the 2 Bassets Brewery

We “slept in” until 6:45 on Thursday morning.  Before breakfast, I ambled around White Sulphur Springs, snapping pictures.  After a bowl of cereal and coffee at the motel, I walked a block to the Forest Service office and met Nancy at the desk.  She provided ideas for our day, and we set off, north on U.S. Highway 89 and into the Little Belt Mountains to Memorial Falls, a splendid small cascade in the woods.  It was a short, easy hike to the lower and upper falls, through beautiful forest.  Back in the car to WSS (as locals write it), quick sandwich lunch, then in the car again.  We refueled at the Conoco, where Gerald washed every window on the car not once but twice.  As we gassed up we yakked a bit, and got a reco for dinner that night.


Houses in White Sulphur Springs: fancy (“The Castle”), comfy, and in need of work; below, scenes from town and Memorial Falls



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We headed west, soon on dirt roads, 18 miles to Gipsy Lake in the Big Belt Mountains (Nancy from the Forest Service suggested it, an easily accessible mountain lake).  We hoped for a trail all the way around, but could only go about one-fourth of the way.  Still lovely.  Back down the hill, and into town.  Jim took a nap and I headed to the tiny county library to try to do some research on the “old days,” but there were no references, and the heavily tatted young librarian (I was hoping for an old timer who really knew stuff) pointed me to the Meagher County Historical Society in the old house known locally as “the Castle” (it was built in 1905 by the Donohoes, second owners of the Castle Mountain Ranch).  I met volunteer Helen Dupea, told her a little about the family, especially Uncle Harold (who she remembered), but they didn’t have anything helpful.  She suggested the clerk of Meagher County, so I stopped at the courthouse, but the friendly young woman only had records for land ownership, and water and mineral rights.  Back to the motel, shower, and on to beer at the 2 Bassets.  WSS is a small place: Helen was there, as was Nancy from the Forest Service!  Enjoyed a couple of pints, then motored south to The Roadhouse, which Gerald from the Conoco recommended.  Jim and I both tucked into a walleye dinner.  On the way out, we spotted Gerald and thanked him for his guidance!

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On the way to Gipsy Lake (below)

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Montana wildflowers


Splendid taxidermy in the Meagher County Courthouse

Four days into a flawless trip, we hit a small snag Friday morning.  After an amble around town, which included a stop at 2 Bassets to meet Leroy and Stanley (Barry was brewing, the hounds were paddling around the tasting room), we headed south to Ringling, a shrinking burg that was once on the main line of The Milwaukee Road (a major Chicago-Seattle railway, now part of either the Burlington Northern Santa Fe, BNSF, or the Union Pacific); the Milwaukee’s main line through Ringling was long gone, and we worked hard to spot the former right of way.

After a two-minute drive around town, we set off for our morning destination, Maudlow, where dad and sibs lived with our grandmother until moving east.  The dirt road was bumpy, our map was not that detailed, and even though I had a GPS signal on my smartphone, I reckoned we were lost about 10 miles southwest of Ringling.  So we turned around (we later learned we were headed the right way, deep sigh), back north.  At the intersection of U.S. 12, a major east-west road, we headed west, across the Big Belt Mountains, for lunch in Townsend.  It was a well-kept town, seat of Broadwater County, right on the Missouri River, which was flowing north toward a huge reservoir and Great Falls.  Great burger, nice chat, then north a mile to the river for some pictures.

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On the road to Maudlow


The Missouri River at Townsend; Lewis and Clark paddled here in 1804

Back in White Sulphur Springs, I dropped Jim for a nap and headed to the self-service car wash to clean the dust off his car.  I worked up a thirst, so stopped at the historic Stockman Bar for a cold one; it was right across Main Street from the 2 Basset, and the Stockman had their beer on tap.  The place was echoing with decades of cowboy voices (the celebrated Montana novelist Ivan Doig spent time there with his dad, and wrote about it in his autobiographical essay This House of Sky), plus a beautiful carved-oak back bar with columns and mirrors, just way cool.


At this point, it’s probably redundant to write that Montana was fertile ground for my Talking to Strangers impulse; here are three vignettes from Friday:

> With Ethan, 19, son of the current owner of the Stockman. I gave him our brief family story, and he remarked that his uncle is current county sheriff.  Made me wonder: would he have hired Uncle Harold?

> With Ernie and Alice Bachsler a couple hours later at the 2 Basset.  Ernie’s dad emigrated from the ethnically German part of Romania in 1919, stowed away on a ship, and somehow made his way to North Dakota, south of New Salem.  Ernie and Alice moved west to Seattle with their five kids, and after retiring moved to Montana – “much better weather,” said Ernie.

> With Dale Luchterhand, known as Red, who I met after dinner (found the best place to eat in town, the Bar 47), when I ambled up a side street to take a picture of The Castle.  Dale was yet another memorable fellow, a former Wisconsin dairy farmer squeezed out, cowboying in Meagher County since 2006, and about to head off to Dillon, in southwestern Montana, to learn bootmaking.  Whew!

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Dale Luchterhand, cowboy

We were up before six on Saturday morning, into the car, and south on U.S. 89, then west on Interstate 90, across the Yellowstone River, over the south end of the Bridger Mountains, and into Bozeman.  First stop was to retrieve my iPhone charger at the motel where we stayed Tuesday (smooth recovery from a senior moment Wednesday morning); then for a short stroll on the tidy, compact campus of Montana State University; then to the Nova Café on Main Street to meet Jim’s long pal Boone, friends since the late 1970s.  Through the years, Jim often spoke about Boone, cyclist, inventor, entrepreneur, original-thinking architect, and nice fellow.  He was that and more.  We had a great chat and a fine breakfast.  Last stop before the airport was a quick detour to Cousin Betty’s to meet her beloved Dwain, just back from a week of backcountry adventures on his ATV.  Jim had met Dwain previously (he has a daughter in Oregon), but I had not, and it was fun to yak with him, albeit briefly.


On the campus of Montana State University: “Old Main,” and the College of Engineering; below, Main Street, Bozeman


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Dwain and Betty

At 11:45, Jim dropped me at Bozeman airport.  Kisses and hugs, and hugs again.  It had been, as Jim predicted months ago, an epic trip.  Better than epic.  As we approached the terminal, he said it was one of the best weeks in his life, and I agreed.  Through the years, we’ve not been as close as we should have been, but that week we were close.  I waved goodbye with tears in my eyes.

Bozeman airport was teeming with tourists.  At the security checkpoint, I spotted a last “you’re in Montana” image: signs noting that bear spray was prohibited beyond the screening area!  The flight to Chicago was seriously late, and I missed my connecting flight to Washington.  The experienced traveler always has a Plan B, and after we took off for O’Hare I mapped it out: a United flight into Washington Dulles.  Thanks ro onboard wi-fi, I fixed up a standby ticket on United.  Sprinted across the vast ORD terminal complex and made it to the United gate 20 minutes before departure, but there was a snag (long story, about travel privileges for employees of other airlines) and the gate agent could not give me a seat.  Plan C was executed: two hours in the Admirals Club until it closed at 10, then 6 hours of sleep on a bench outside the club entrance (I slept fairly well, raincoat over me to darken the light), back into the club when it opened at 4, a bit more sleep, a shower, and a 6:55 flight home.  A minor bump at the end of a wonderful journey back.


* Montana writer William Kittredge coined that apt description in a 1989 anthology of stories and essays from the state.


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The icy waters of Memorial Creek give new meaning to “chilling”!



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London with Family



The family in front of our mews townhouse

On June 28, Linda, Dylan, Carson, and I hopped in a huge black Chevy Suburban to National Airport.  We were headed to London for a week, to meet Robin and introduce granddaughters to overseas travel.  Sitting in the “black car” made me a fish out of water – regular readers know I take the Metro to the airport, but 1) we had a ton of luggage, and 2) Robin was paying for the fancy ride.  We flew to JFK, then onto a big 777 to London Heathrow.  Carson (age 7) was seriously excited.  Dylan, older by two years, was both excited and a little scared.  We landed early, and hopped into another black car (thanks, Robin, again) into the city.


We had rented an Airbnb house for six nights.  It looked posh in the website pictures, and it was: a totally modernized three-bedroom house on Atherstone Mews in Kensington (mews are the old stables and living quarters that were behind bigger homes), less than 300 feet from the Gloucester Road Underground Station, a supermarket, and more.  A perfect location in a neighbrohood I knew well from many years of American Airlines work in London.

Linda opted for a nap, but the little ones, Robin, and I headed for a walk in Hyde Park, bound for the bronze Peter Pan statue that has delighted me for years.  The kids were soaking up all the new and different things, admiring all the dogs, marveling at the feral parakeets.  We returned by way of the Princess Diana Memorial Playground and a ride on a rather speedy carousel.  It was nearly five, and time to introduce the kids to that famous British institution, the pub.  Into the Gloucester Arms we went.  Linda joined us five minutes later, and we toasted the start of the trip.  A quick dinner and we were all asleep by nine.

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We slept nearly 12 hours (it had been a long time since I snoozed half a day).  Coffee, breakfast out the door to nearby museums.  First stop was the Natural History Museum, to marvel at dinosaurs, fossils, and more.  I peeled off at noon to join a long friend for lunch, hopping on a bikeshare cycle and riding toward Piccadilly.  Alas, at the last minute my pal couldn’t make it, so I pedaled on, east on one of the new “Cycle Superhighways,” CS3, on a separated right-of-way, all the way to Tower Hill.  Grabbed a sandwich at a Pret a Manger, walked to a small park nearby, and had a picnic.  Got back on a red-and-silver bike, south across the Thames into Lambeth, then back west.


At the Natural History Museum: serpent design in interior column and natural “sand sculpture”

Met the family outside Kensington Palace (less than a mile from our house), and headed in, for a look at a special exhibit of Princess Diana’s dresses and gowns (truly beautiful), then the King’s and Queen’s state apartments (King William and Queen Mary bought the palace in 1689).  Along the way, nice reminders of the succession of monarchs in the 17th to 20th Centuries.  Headed out into the gardens, then home.  A long day of touring, especially for the young girls.

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Gardens, Kensington Palace

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The King’s Staircase, Kensington Palace

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Gown sketch and fabric swatch

At 7:30, friends Scott and Caroline Sage (with whom I often stay when in London) joined us at the house for drinks and dinner.  Scott and Robin have been friends since Mohawk Elementary School in suburban Dallas.  We had a good yak and some laughs – Linda has been friends with Scott’s mom for nearly 30 years.

I slept fitfully on night two, too much sleep the night before.  Up before everyone at seven, washed up, brewed coffee, ate breakfast, and peeled out at eight.  Onto a shared bike, east to Grosvenor Square in Mayfair, saluting the bronze statue of General Eisenhower in front of the U.S. Embassy, then back through Hyde Park to Paddington Station.  Hopped on the 9:22 Great Western Train to Worcester, my second ride on that line in five weeks – and headed for the same place, the home of the Crabtrees, this time for Diana’s 50th birthday party.

There was something of a welcoming party on the platform of Worcester Shrub Hill station: Jamie, 17, newly licensed to operate a motor vehicle, plus his half-sister Jo (who I had not seen in years) and her husband Neil.  In no time we were at The White House, the Crabtrees’ wonderful house in the village of Crowle.  Though the party did not start for 30 minutes, the first revelers were already there, and I plunged in to meet all of them.  It was perfect afternoon, sunny and warm.  I met lots of villagers as well as family – Diana’s father up from Australia; John’s sister Jenny and husband Rob; and more.  Hopped in a taxi back to the railway, onto the 7:02 to London, and home by 10:45.  A nice day.

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My long pals John and Diana


Villagers: Jean, 94, a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, recognized for her work with poor children in Birmingham; Keith and Jason

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Sunday morning I was back in London-tourist mode, out the door with the girls to The Royal Mews, the stables adjacent to Buckingham Palace (the Queen was in residence, so the palace was closed to visitors).  I peeled off and headed back to the house for lunch, then a leisurely afternoon cycling about northwest London.  And a nap.  At five we hopped on the Tube to Piccadilly and a fancy dinner at The Wolseley.  We had a great table on a balcony overlooking the bustling restaurant, built in the former showroom of a company that made motorcars.  The girls enjoyed the people watching, and dinner lasted more than two hours.  A fun evening.


At the Royal Mews

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Carson as Royal Horsewoman!

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The Grenfell tragedy hung over the city; at a risk of seeming to be a disaster-voyeur, I rode a bike out to see the remains, and to pray for the victims. Having worked my whole life in a safety-focused business, the disregard for basic safety was shocking.

Monday morning, and the ladies headed for the Tower of London, while I cycled north to The Design Museum, in its new quarters in Kensington.  I had visited them early in 2015 when they were still in a cramped old warehouse on the Thames in Bermondsey.  The new digs were in the former Commonwealth Institute (1962), nicely repurposed.  Much more of the permanent collection was on view, as well as a cool special exhibit on the impact of California design and innovation on our lives.  It’s a way-cool place.

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The Design Museum in its new quarters; to fund building renovation, the museum sold off adjacent land for fancy apartments (left)

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Part of the museum’s permanent collection.  Below, examples from the UK’s 1960s redesign of road signs (I have long admired these, which are so much clearer than the awful, old signs in the U.S.)

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California!  Barbie, the Frisbee, and the world’s first networked PC, actually developed by Xerox’s PARC Design Team, 1981


More California design

Rode around a bit after lunch, and at 3:45 Dylan, Carson, and I hopped on the Tube west to Kew and met my Imperial College host Omar Merlo at his kids’ school, a place I’ve gotten to know from staying with them several times in the past two years.  Sophie Merlo is eight, and we organized a sort of “play date” with her and their new dog Mr. Waffles.  We had lots of fun.  Back to Kensington, dinner at the pub.


Tuesday was the last full day.  Robin, Carson, Dylan, and I hopped the Tube to another fave attraction, the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth, across the Thames from Westminster.  The museum had been completely redone in 2014, and was ever more impressive.  Most of the place is given over to the two World Wars, and the quality of exhibits and interpretation is outstanding.  The girls headed to meet Linda at the London Eye, and I peeled off.  Headed home, rode around, took a nap, and nipped in for a pint at a cool pub near our house.


From the museum collection: soliciting cyclists during WW1; the famous Spitfire that saved Britain; and a children’s “Mickey Mouse” gas mask that was smelly and uncomfortable — but kids soon figured out if they breathed a certain way they could make a fart-like sound, which made them laugh even when scared.


We were asleep by nine, because we rose way early Wednesday morning and flew home via Philadelphia.  Our granddaughters, ages nine and seven, already been overseas, and that’s a very cool thing.

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England and Austria


Worcestershire, England

On Friday, May 26, I rode into Washington with Robin, then hopped the Metro to National Airport.  I was headed to England via New York, and JFK flights later that day got goofed up, so I opted to head up early.  I planned to head to the Neue Galerie, the museum of German and Austrian art created by the Lauder (cosmetics) family, but some time-sensitive consulting work arrived in my in box just as we were leaving D.C.  By the time I finished my “homework” at LaGuardia, it seemed too late to head into Manhattan, then back out to Kennedy, so I hopped on the Q70 to one of my favorite E Pluribus Unum places, the Jackson Heights district of Queens.  The streets are packed with new Americans from all over.  Almost no one looks like me.  On the bus, the first T-t-S of the trip, with a jetBlue captain.  Turned out to be a fellow Minnesotan (ja sure you betcha, as we say in the Northland).  We had a nice chat about the airline business, careers, family.

Not surprisingly, there are a bunch of good ethnic restaurants in the area, and I tracked down a simple Korean spot on Broadway, Hae Woon Dae, and tucked into a spicy stew based around kimchee, the spicy fermented cabbage that is sort of the national dish.  Fortified (and sweating from the spice), I hopped the subway two stops east, then the Q10 bus, which lurches through Queens to JFK.  The airport-to-airport public transit fare was $2.75, and the glimpse of humanity in all its colors was huge added value.

Landed at London Heathrow at 6:50, zipped through border control, and onto the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station.  The day before saw a record high temperature in London, and it was still surprisingly warm.  My next train, west to Worcestershire and my dear friends the Crabtrees, departed at 8:18, so I headed out to get some cash, then back into the station for one coffee, then two.  In no time we were zipping west, past Oxford, through the timeless and verdant English countryside.  John Crabtree, who I have known since we met when both of us were guest lecturers in Australia in 1981, and his daughter Jessica (now almost 12), were waiting on Platform 1 at Worcester Shrub Hill Station.  Hugs, into the car, and home to their splendid old house in Crowle, a village four miles east.  John’s beloved Diana, sons James and Robert, rounded out the welcoming party, hugs and kisses.  It felt like home.


At 12:30, John and I set out on foot for Chequers, the village pub that has been fancied up into a gastropub (nice, but I liked it better before).  Diana and the kids drove, and soon Diana’s friend Claire and daughter Olivia joined us at a big table.  Nice big lunch, pints, laughs.  Back home, nice afternoon nap, then at 5:30 we drove north to Birmingham and the Hippodrome Theatre to see Milongo, an energetic Tango presentation with Argentine and British dancers.  We arrived early and had a walk around.  John is a Birmingham native, a Brum, and has contributed mightily to the economic and social development of the city, including 25 years of service on the Hippodrome board (he would retire as chairman in four days).  The show was great, but Jessica was a bit bored, so we left at intermission and headed home.  On the way we passed a nearly completed, £14 million  training and care facility for Sense, Britain’s charity for the deaf and blind.  John has been on their board for years, too.  His commitments are many.  A true citizen, a righteous person.

It gets light at four in England in late May.  I slept two more hours, then grabbed a cup of tea, bowl of cereal, and hopped on young Robbie’s mountain bike for a slower gaze at the wonderful landscape, through villages like Broughton Hackett and White Ladies Aston, past grazing sheep and cattle, old churches.  Timeless and splendid, all the more on a sunny, cool morning.  Thirteen miles, a nice leg-stretch.



Sidebar: Election Time in England

Regular readers know that I prefer the parliamentary system over the U.S. model of separate executive and legislative branches, and a day earlier had asked John and Diana about their constituency (“riding”).  I spotted an election notice with the riding name, Mid-Worcestershire, so I looked up who was running.  The incumbent was a Tory, and my eye then moved to Margaret Rowley, the candidate from the Liberal Democrats, a party closely aligned with my beliefs.  I looked up her website, read her ideas, and thought “I’d vote for her if I could.”  So I sent her a note:

Dear Ms. Rowley,
I’m an American, visiting long friends in Crowle, and just read the summary of your views on the LibDem website.  Too bad I can’t vote next month!
  I wish you and your party much success.

Within an hour, she responded (I simply couldn’t imagine a U.S. politician replying to a non-constituent, much less so quickly):

Dear Rob,

Thank you for your good wishes.  I too am sorry you can’t vote!  We seem to be suffering from the same phenomenon here that gave you Trump as president (whom I suspect you don’t support!) 

I hope to improve my vote from last time, but I suspect not as much as I should given the relative merits of the Party manifestos. In time, I believe that more people will realise we were right and we will eventually win through.

Regards, Margaret


It was a busy weekend: at ten we headed out, driving 45 miles southwest into the gorgeous Wye Valley, into a desigated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  And it was, just wonderful.  I was last in the valley exactly 40 years earlier, when I visited journalist Patrick Rivers and his wife as part of my dissertation research.  At 11, we met two more long friends, Andrew Manning Cox and wife Janet, with their golden retriever Humphrey.  We did a nice three-mile walk in the valley, crossing the river on a footbridge, and re-crossing on a hand-pulled ferry to our real destination, the Saracen’s Head pub, for Sunday lunch.  The place was hopping.  James, his girlfriend Immy, and Robbie joined us.  Another lively and fun repast.  After lunch we had to hike back up to the car, about 300 vertical feet.  Full of lamb, potatoes, and beer, it was a bit of a slog!




John Crabtree and Andrew Manning Cox



The Wye Valley

We were home in an hour, and into their swimming pool.  Nice!  Then a simple dinner, bit of television, and off to sleep.  A full day, for sure.

Monday was cloudy with the prospect of rain – more like real British weather – but I was able to crank out 12 miles on the bike.  Nice yaks with John and Diana in the kitchen, bowl of cereal, shower, and the whole family, save James (who was studying for senior exams), drove me back to Shrub Hill station.  They insisted in accompanying me to Platform 2A to see me off with hugs and kisses.  Such wonderful and special people, more like family.



The milkman still visits!

I settled in, pulled out my laptop to write in this journal, and cued The Beatles’ “Let It Be,” perfect background to admire a paddock full of grazing sheep.  We arrived London Paddington at 12:30, to meet the next friend, albeit a newer one, Freddie Broderman, for lunch at 1:00.   Freddie tracked me down just as he was graduating from Georgetown in 2015, bound for a job in American Airlines’ Revenue Management Department.  After a year in Texas, he transferred home to England and now works in the European regional office.  We had lunch, beer, and a long yak about the airline industry.  He’s an interesting and perceptive young fellow, loves the business.

At 2:45, I hopped on the Tube out to my lodgings, back with Omar Merlo and his family in Kew (I had stayed with them in February, and was lecturing in his class at Imperial College the next day).  In a few months, their golden retriever puppy, Mr. Waffles, had grown to 65 pounds, and greeted me at the door.  Took a much needed nap.  At 5:30, Omar’s wife Carolyn, son Freddie, the hound, and I drove a mile to Richmond Park, and set off for a pond to see if Mr. Waffles would swim.  We took a wrong turn at the start, so it took awhile to get there, but it was a cool day and the park is such a lovely place, a semi-wild expanse in the middle of a huge metropolis.  As we approached the pond we encountered a large herd of deer.  Mr. Waffles was uninterested in them, but he liked the water.  We threw sticks far into the pond, to help him find his swimming legs, but he was content to wade.  We found the straight path back to the car, but it was still a five-mile trek, and all of us were nackered by the time we got home after nine.  Had a few slices of pizza and I headed to bed.



Up early Tuesday morning, suited up, out the door to fetch milk and flowers for Carolyn.  When I got back, Mr. Waffles had a plaintive look and was whimpering softly.  Ah, I thought, you want breakfast, so I found the dog food and dumped it in his bowl.  When Carolyn came down, she said she fed him at five.  What a trickster!   Walked the short way to the Kew Gardens station and onto the Tube to South Kensington and the university.  I had time, so hopped on a shared bike and rode around Hyde and Green parks, grabbed a coffee, rode some more.

The morning reminded me that one of the joys of travel is experiencing ordinary life in a different place. It’s one of the reasons why staying with friends is such a delight, because you can walk to the grocery store, feed the dog, and do the dishes.  These experiences are at the polar opposite of most mass tourism, which guides visitors to a curated set of “sights.”  At its worst, this nodal approach presents the ordinary landscape and ordinary experiences as mostly worthless, a desert. I have long railed against that view.


Met Omar for lunch, and from one to three delivered a talk to MBA students.  At three I went back out on the bike, riding to Westminster, past Buckingham Palace, and back.  More than 20 miles, a good stretch.   As I was docking the shared bike in front of the school, a nice T-t-S moment.  A father approached me and asked if I knew the neighborhood, because they were looking for a playground for their five-year-old daughter, who looked seriously unhappy.  I told father and daughter that we would find one, and with a few taps on my iPhone we had them on their way to Hyde Park Playground, 0.6 mile east and north.  “I hope when you get there you’ll start smiling,” I said to the little girl, “because you look pretty gloomy right now.”  She finally smiled!

I grabbed my backpack, and hopped onto the Underground, east to Holborn to meet a former Cambridge student, Tim.  We’ve stayed connected for a decade.  The original plan was to meet at a pub on The Strand, but it was closed for a private function, so we ambled a block north to a wonderful tiny pub, the Seven Stars (established 1602), just across Carey Street from the Royal Courts of Justice.  Tim and I got caught up on jobs, families, a bit of politics.  Way interesting fellow, and a genuinely fine person.  We walked back to Holborn and parted, me riding west to Earl’s Court for a Indian dinner at the now-familiar Masala Zone (my fourth visit in under six months); as I’ve written, I’m not a fan of chains, but the place offers a sampler tray called a Thali that gives a lone diner great variety.  As often happens, the (Bangladeshi) waiter looked askance when I asked for some chopped green chiles, and later surprised that I finished them all.  I was full, happy, and tired.  Headed home, chatted briefly with Carolyn (Omar goes to sleep even earlier than me).


Scenes on Carey Street: above, redundant pay phones outside the law courts; below, tribute to Sir Thomas More; bottom, tipplers across from the Seven Stars.


Up early again, packed up, down to the kitchen.  Mr. Waffles did not fool me again!  Made some coffee, ate a bowl of cereal, hugged the family, and headed out, Tube and train to Gatwcik Airport.  Dropped my bag and at ten met Roz Chivers, a second-generation airline manager (her dad worked for the long-gone British Caledonian, Royal Brunei, and Virgin Atlantic) I met at London Business School in April.  We had a nice yak across a bunch of airline and non-airline topics.



At 11:30 I hopped on EasyJet 8957 to Vienna.  A young Hungarian family with a 14-month-old joined my row.  I explained I was a grandfather, so crying or getting up and down didn’t bother me.  Dad said “she doesn’t cry,” and she didn’t.  But she did take a liking to me!  Bound for Austria, it made sense to cue Mozart, and soon I was tapping my foot to Symphony #41.

We landed in Vienna about 3:20.  I was pumped!  First visit in 46 years (on my very first trip to Europe, 1971).  Wowie!  Hopped on the nonstop train into the city (doh, the T-Geek could have saved $10 by taking a local train), then walked just over a mile to my Airbnb in the Erdberg neighborhood.  School had ended for the day, so there were lots of kids on scooters, alone and with moms, plus a few grandparents like me.  Erdberg was a slightly gritty (but not threatening) working-class neighborhood, a place where lots of men have tattoos and women smoke cigarettes while pushing strollers. (Indeed, it seemed like lots of Austrians smoke, so I looked up the stats, and indeed 24% of adults do so, compared to 15% in Germany and under 9% in Sweden.)


Detail, my Airbnb apartment building


The windows of Vienna.  So cool.

It was warm and humid, and I was sweaty when I got to my digs – a whole studio apartment – in in a pleasant old building on Wällischgasse.  So I stripped down, drank some water, and took a late but tonic nap.  At six I headed out, bound for the closest station of Citybike Wien, the bikeshare system.  It was several blocks, but in no time I was gliding along.  Citybike is cool, because 1) it’s completely free, and 2) the (free) time allowance is 60 minutes, not 30.  Only downside is the density and number of stations is relatively small – hence the half-mile walk to the nearest one.  I rode north then east, through the enormous Prater park to WU, the Vienna University of Economics and Business, where I would lecture the next evening.  The campus is brand-new and eye-popping, with buildings designed by several superstar architects, including the late Zaha Hadid.   Rode back, dropped the bike.


Citybike Wien station


I was thirsty, so stopped at the Petrus und Paulus Stuben for a beer on their sidewalk terrace.  Way pleasant, beneath tall trees and across from a primary school.  I considered eating there, but decided to head “home,” wash my face, and put on jeans.  Gasthaus Bauer was right around the corner from my digs, and they also had outdoor seating.  The neighborhood is seriously off the tourist track, so my rough German came in handy for the beer and meal order.  And what a dinner: pan-fried fish filets (Zander, European cousin of the walleye, a species we treasured growing up in Minnesota), boiled potatoes, and three spears of white asparagus, all with hollandaise sauce.  So good.


Ornamental detail, public school on Petrusgasse; left, girls’ entrance; right; Snow White and the seven dwarfs above a side door


Public housing in Vienna does not look like public housing in the U.S.: scenes from the Rabenhof, built in the 1920s by a socialist municipal government, and still clean and well-maintained.

Up after six Thursday morning, on foot to the Citybike station, then to the Belvedere Palace, and famed State Opera House, then back.  Bought breakfast fixings at a supermarket and headed back.  Showered, did a bit of work, suited up, and walked back to grab a Citybike, then north to WU.  I was seriously needing coffee, do dosed up on a large Americano and brought this journal up to date.



Belvedere Palace and gardens



The Allies did not build monuments to European victory in World War II, but the Soviets did.


The famous Vienna State Opera, Staatsoper


Morning rush hour, the good kind!

At 12:00, I met one of my new hosts, Bodo Schlangenmilch, and we started chatting.  Ten minutes later, a longtime University of Minnesota colleague, Mike Houston, came in.  The U of M and WU have run a successful joint EMBA program since 1990, which is how I was invited.  We chatted a bit more, then walked to lunch, and another WU colleague, Barbara Stöttinger, joined us.  A lively lunch.  Barbara kindly offered a short tour of the dazzling campus, and off we went.  She forthrightly pointed out that some of the superstar-designed buildings already required remediation (why can’t famous architects get the basics right?).  After the walk, I headed back to the Marketing Department to work for the afternoon.






Above, scenes from the WU campus

At 6:30, it was time to stand and deliver, to 32 EMBA students, almost all from either Austria or Eastern Europe (Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia, etc.).  The program is clearly relaxed, because prior to my talk the class was tippling, and brought their wine and beer into the classroom.  They offered me some, but I politely declined.  Twenty minutes into the talk, Georg from Südtirol left the classroom, returning quickly with a glass of wine for the presenter.  I took a sip and they cheered.  Prosit!  It was a great class, lots of engagement, and the hard questions that typically only come from older EMBA students.  They are my favorite kind.  After the talk, I stayed around for another glass and a good yak with Ferenc from Hungary, Signe from Estonia, and several others.  I had planned to ride a Citybike home, but it was nearly dark, so I hopped the U-Bahn and bus.  Changed clothes and walked a block to another local gasthaus for a splendid filled schnitzel.  Slept hard.


In the (relaxed) classroom

Friday was a free day, and I knew it would be a long one, because the overnight was not in an Airbnb or hotel, but a night train to Munich that would depart Vienna at 11:30.  But I still woke up at 6:30 and got moving, though slowly.  Out the door at 8:45 to the Hauptbahnhof (main station).  I suspected that Google Maps’ transit information was inaccurate, and that morning I noticed the disclaimer: “These results may be incomplete. Not all transit agencies in this area have provided their information.”  Yep.  I could have taken a tram from the Airbnb to the station in under ten minutes, rather than two subway rides.  Sigh.


New construction near the Hauptbahnhof

At the station, I put my bag and backpack in a locker, and headed out, bike helmet and iPhone in hand.  Before grabbing a Citybike, I needed a coffee, and spotted a wonderful traditional Viennese café, the Goldegg in the Wieden neighborhood.  Zipped in for a café latte.  There was an old billiards table and some other things from the past.  A joy that places like that are still in business.  Hopped on the bike and rode north to the first stop of the day, the apartment building designed by the idiosyncratic Austrian artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser.  Cool, but crawling with tourists, validating my point above about “nodal tourism.”  I took a few snaps and got back on the bike, riding north to stop 2, the spire of St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Dom), a Gothic fortress begun in 1137.  The tower lookout was not nearly as high as the one in Ulm visited six months earlier, but still afforded great views.  Check and done.


Hundertwasser apartment building




St. Stephan’s: view from the tower, and below


View from the tram

Stop 3 was lunch at a recommended spot, but it was a bit early, so I hopped on a tram that I followed the ring-streets that encircle the city core.  When we rolled past the opera house, I spotted about a dozen men dressed like Mozart standing in front, posing for tourist pictures, the Vienna equivalent, perhaps, of the naked cowboy in Times Square!  A couple blocks on, some fancy palaces (the Habsburgs owned some nice real estate), the Austrian parliament, city hall.  A good ride.  I mistakenly thought tram #1 would go 360 degrees around the ring, but the streetcar knew the way, and headed west.  European transit systems are dense and integrated (about that moment, I noticed that screens on the trams displayed real-time info on Citybike availability at adjacent stations, way cool), so I hopped on the U-Bahn, then a S-Bahn (suburban train), and by 1:15 was at Gasthaus Kopp in a residential area north of the center.

The Kopp was a triumph of web marketing and TripAdvisor mastery: a rather dumpy place in a modest neighborhood, with slightly alienated wait staff.  Food was fine, but the two dinner places in “my neighborhood” were way better.  It was Friday in Catholic Austria, so I had a nice plate of fried fish and salad, lots to eat.  Walked two blocks north, grabbed a Citybike, and rode down the Danube, past a bunch of river cruise ships, to the WU campus.  My iPhone battery was not going to make it to 9:00 p.m., when I would reclaim my backpack, so I circled back to the WU campus and paused for an hour to recharge both batteries and my body in the ExecEd offices.  It was good to chill.

At 3:30 I pedaled away on another Citybike and rode 10 miles through Prater, which is both a huge green space and an old-school amusement park.  Next stop was the amusement side, which has been in business since 1766, although likely without the thrill rides, games of chance, and the other Midway-like attractions.  Paused for a beer in the enormous Schweizerhaus beer garden.  While tippling, I did a bit of reading about Austria immediately after World War II.  I was unsure if it was occupied by the Allies (it was, until 1955).  And I learned that Austria was, on a per capita basis, the largest recipient of Marshall Plan and humanitarian aid, in part because of U.S. concern that the Soviets would exploit hunger and poverty and tip Austria into the Eastern Bloc.




Scenes from the Prater

I took one thrill ride, the Prater Tower, which was way cool (and not at all scary; the kid next to me asked before takeoff if I were scared, and I replied no; but once we were flying he looked pretty tense!).   Had another beer and relaxed, watching the crowds pour into the park on a warm Friday evening.  I didn’t need a big dinner, but I needed to find a good place after Kopp, and with a bit of research I headed toward Sperl, a pleasant neighborhood restaurant (opened 1925) close to where I had morning coffee.  The inner garden was full but not packed, and I sat right down,  For about the same price as Kopp, Sperl offered tablecloths, a bread basket before the meal, and smiling waiters.  I tucked into the last of Spargelzeit: cream of asparagus soup and a (vegetarian) asparagus goulash with dumplings.  Yum!   A reminder of the density of European cities: the restaurant courtyard was tight against an apartment, and on the railing above us were drying swimsuits and towels.



WU campus from the Prater Tower.  Whee!


The famous ferris wheel at Prater

The T-Geek still had a bit of time, so I hopped a tram for a short ride in the center, walked the gardens of Belvedere Palace, and headed to the main station.  Grabbed my bags and made for the Austrian Railways’ (ÖBB) first-class lounge.  I had a ticket for a sleeping car to Munich, so got to use the lounge for a couple of hours, way nice.  The 11:25 to Munich was actually operated by Hungarian Railways, and the sleeping car was a bit dated, but comfortable.  My upper-berth roommate was Fabian, a researcher at an Austrian government agency, clearly a smart guy (he had been at Princeton in 2016).  I would have been happy to yak had it not been a way-long day, and in no time the lights were out.  It took awhile to fall asleep, but then I was in deep.  The porter brought coffee and juice at six on Saturday morning, and Fabian and I yakked a bit about the state of the world.


Detail, Belvedere Palace

Hopped off at 6:20.  This trip had some long intervals, like a flight home six hours later, so I took a little walk across downtown Munich, past the cathedral and several other churches, and new and old city halls.  Hopped the S-Bahn to the airport, which was absolutely teeming.  Made my way to British Airways’ lounge, which contracted with American.  Alas, no shower, so I shaved and cleaned up as much as possible with just a sink, donned clean clothes, and flew to Philadelphia.



The New Town Hall




Old Town Hall

The last swell T-t-S of the trip was on the short flight home to Washington.  My seatmate David was from York, England, and it was his first trip to America.  He was so excited, and I filled him with tips on what to see in the capital region.  A nice end to a fine journey.  Had Henry and MacKenzie on leashes by six.

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Atlanta, Too Briefly


Broad Street at mid-day; the place had young energy, diversity, and an agreeable scale, contrasting markedly with the verticality of the rest of downtown

Was up at dawn on Friday, May 19, dogs on leash for quick walk, then out the door for National Airport and my first visit to Atlanta since 2000.   Delta Air Lines’ main hub, the largest connecting complex in the world, was even bigger, and I was reminded of a great aphorism that actually predates the rise of U.S. hub-and-spoke airline networks: Southerners say that when you die, you might go to heaven or you might go to hell, but either way, you’ll probably fly through Atlanta!

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I had not taken a good look at the downtown in 30 years, so I hopped on their MARTA subway was in the city in under 20 minutes.  Hopped off at the MARTA “hub,” the Five Points station, and headed up to the street.  Jack Chapman, an Atlanta friend of our son Jack, had given me some recommendations on things to see.  He’s in commercial real estate, and presciently knew of my interest in the built environment (or else our Jack clued him in), so the tour was long on interesting older commercial buildings.


The Eiseman Brothers’ clothing store (1900) was razed to make way for the Five Points subway station, but they presered this wonderful facade — a nice welcome to downtown

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The new football stadium for Atlanta

It was a quick trip, so I had a gym bag and backpack, but they were heavy enough to want to park them for a couple of hours.  Admiring the former head office of the old Citizens and Southern Bank (now part of Bank of America), I noticed two things: it was on the National Register of Historic Places, and it now housed the business school of Georgia State University.  I ambled in, took the elevator to the Marketing Department on the 13th floor, and introduced myself: “Good morning. My mother always told me there’s no harm in asking . . .”  In no time, Ms. Sharon walked me to the back room, and locked up my stuff.  Thanking her profusely, I promised to return by two.


Outside and lobby views of the former Citizens & Southern Bank

It was so nice to be back in The South, where strangers on the street look you in the eye and say “hello” or “good morning,” no matter their color or yours.  An hour later, when I was taking a photograph of the historic Candler Building, a USPS truck driver smiled at me and said “That’s the prettiest building in Atlanta.”  Although such a place is fertile ground for Talking to Strangers, I did not connect.  I did, however, have a great look around downtown and a splendid lunch of pho at Dua on Broad Street.  Grabbed my stuff and headed to my actual destination, Emory University.  The Five Points MARTA station was closed (police on scene), as was the next one north, Peachtree Center, so I walked on to Civic Center and hopped the train north, then the #6 bus east to the campus and my digs at the school’s conference center and hotel.

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The Candler Building, once Atlanta’s tallest; Asa Candler was one of the founders of The Coca-Cola Company

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The Flatiron Building

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John Portman’s Hyatt Regency Hotel; back in the day, it was an architectual statement; today, not so much

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Belting it out in the midday sun

My roommate, longtime airline lawyer Gary Doernhoefer, was already in our room, working away, so I headed to the gym for some biking.  He was still on calls when I returned, but soon was free, and we yakked for about 90 minutes, catching up and prepping for a panel discussion the next day.  We were there at the request of our long host at Northwestern University, Anne Coughlan, who had organized a small conference on teaching distribution and sales strategy; our role was to discuss a cool multimedia case study of airline distribution, on which we three collaborated in 2015-16.

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Kudzu, “the plant that ate the South,” near the hotel; it is an invasive and highly aggressive species

At 6:15, Gary and I headed down to meet the attendees.  Had some nice chats, got caught up with Anne, and enjoyed a fine buffet dinner.  A couple of hours later, about half of the group headed to Wisteria Lanes, a bowling alley right in the conference center (how cool was that?).  I hadn’t bowled in more than a decade, and my arthritic knees made for a bumpy roll of the ball, but it didn’t matter – we were all pretty bad and we all had a lot of fun.

Saturday morning we tucked into breakfast, then convened at nine.  Anne, Gary, and I presented for an hour, I listened a bit more, then ambled back to the bus stop, the MARTA train, and flights home via Charlotte.  A long run for a short slide, as the saying goes, but it was well worth it.

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The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) campus is adjacent to Emory University


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St. Paul, Minnesota, and Montreal, Quebec


Original oil painting of former Montreal Canadiens goalie Patrick Roy at the Montreal Athletic Association

The first day of May started inauspiciously.  The plan was a nonstop to Minneapolis/St. Paul arriving in time for lunch with nephew Evan Kail, then coffee with longtime friend Mike Davis.  But tooth #8 had other plans; the pain started a day earlier, and was accelerating.  At first I thought “ride it out,” but by 7:45 I was in the car to the dentist that installed a new bridge less than a year earlier.  Nope, they said, not our problem, so they called a nearby endodontist who could squeeze me in that morning.  Good luck.  And that clinic was wonderful, very professional.  I was out their door at 11:50, after a successful root canal.  Drove home, took the dogs for a pee, and set off for the bus stop.  At non-rush hours I have to walk about 0.8 mile, and did that in under 10 minutes, just before the #721 bus pulled up.  Caught the Metro to the airport and departed Washington at three.  Oh, yeah, in between I managed to write an 800-word op-ed for a client.

Arrived in my native Minnesota at 5:15, in spitting rain just above freezing.  Picked up a rental car and zipped into Minneapolis.  Things got a lot better when I arrived at the Black Forest Inn, a German restaurant and bar I have frequented for 46 years, 6 years after German immigrant Erich Christ opened the place (he’s still in the kitchen almost every day).  We started tippling there in the summer of ’71 because they didn’t ask we 19-year-olds for ID.  Seven years later, we got engaged there.  The place is woven into me.


Scenes from a favorite place: the view from our table, and (R) the table where Linda and I were engaged

Ten minutes after I sat down, long friend Bob Woehrle and wife Paula arrived, and we had a fabulous couple of hours, mostly talking about books, as well as a fine dinner.  My tooth was still sensitive, so a trio of soft foods, Königsberger Klops (German meatball), spaetzle, and red cabbage were just the ticket.  Drove back to their house in Roseville and clocked out.  A long day.

Up at six Tuesday morning, cup of coffee, bowl of cereal, short yak, then out the door, south across St. Paul for my debut at the University of St. Thomas, a small Catholic institution not far from where we lived 1978-87.  Met host Jon Seltzer, like me a Minnesotan retired from a long and varied corporate career, and delivered back-to-back talks on airline alliances to undergrads.  At noon we hopped in the rental car and motored a mile east to the Green Mill Inn, a pizza joint and tavern we frequented through the years (I remembered walking there with Robin and Jack in their double stroller).  I hadn’t been there in nearly a decade, but the place was unchanged.  Had a pasta lunch and a great yak with Jon, dropped him back at St. Thomas, and motored to the airport.


The view from our St. Thomas classroom

Plan A was to fly standby on a Delta nonstop to my next teaching, at McGill University in Montreal, but the flight departed full, so I reverted to Plan B, American to Philadelphia and north to Canada.  We took off from MSP to the northwest, and I saw lakes: Harriet, Calhoun, Lake of the Isles, and on the western horizon the huge Lake Minnetonka.  I thought to myself, as I did several times earlier that day, that Minnesota will always be home.  It was a feeling identical to what I read an hour later in a novel about a woman returning to her native Iran after years in California: “The rush of sentiment that her girlhood home aroused in her was reassuring and soft.”

Another superb example of the public art program at Philadelphia Airport; this is “Frosted Pink Lipstick,” multimedia, by Jesse Harrod

Arrived Montreal about 10:15, hopped the express city bus into town, then the Metro two stops and a short walk to the hotel.  Head hit pillow 11:45 and the sleep was so deep that I was vaguely disoriented at 7:15 Wednesday morning.  But the morning mission quickly came into sharp focus, and I was out the door and north on Sherbrooke for stop 1, breakfast with McGill prof and friend Bob Mackalski at the historic Montreal Athletic Association – today known as Club Sportif MAA – a storied sports institution (the club won the Stanley Cup before the NHL existed).  We had a great yak and a solid breakfast, my tooth feeling much better.


Montreal is a well-known for outstanding public art; these painted moose are all over downtown


On the way to breakfast, I spotted this totem pole in front of the Montreal Museum of Art; totem poles are the work of First Nations from coastal British Columbia, in western Canada.  This was the work of a young artist whose story is here

Stop 2 was a case-study presentation to 30 students from McGill’s MBA in Japan program, a course I knew because I taught in Tokyo a decade earlier (Jack came along, and I remember it as a truly colossal trip).  Except for two Canadians, an American, and a Dutch fellow, the class was entirely Japanese, older, bright, accomplished.  They were a pleasure.  After the talk we had an early lunch, listed to the dean, then walked across town to The Vatican.  Wait, what?  Well, if you enjoy ice hockey, it was a lot like approaching St. Peter’s Square, for in front of us was the marvelous Bell Centre, home of the Montreal Canadiens, or the Habs are they are known locally.

Bob had organized a tour of the arena, and I was reveling in it.  Our tour leader, Gabriel, filled us with facts – the 4-centimeter-thick ice is made once a year in early summer, built in layers; there’s a seven year waiting list for season tickets; every game has been sold out since 2004; the press gallery way, way above the rink is the biggest in the NHL, holding 300.  Along the way, I saluted the memory of a junior high and high school friend, Bill Nyrop, who went from our neighborhood rink on Arden Avenue to the Habs, playing on three Stanley Cup teams in the 1970s (sadly, Bill died in 1995 at age 43).  Before, during, and after the tour I yakked with students.  Here are some scenes:


Peeled off at 2:45, back to the hotel for a bit of work, then out the door for a ride on Bixi, Montreal’s bikeshare system.  I head west to the pleasant inner suburb of Westmount and a bit further, then reversed course, most of the time on dedicated bike lanes separated from the busy Maisonneuve Blvd.  It was rush hour, and a surprising number of people were returning home by bike.  Cool!

At 5:15, I ambled into McLean’s Pub on Peel Street for a Cing à Sept (literally Five to Seven, a distinctively Quebec phrase) with the MBA class and some local McGill MBA students, both part-time and full-time.  It was sorta like speed dating: in less than two hours I spoke with more than a dozen bright young people: Sasha, a Serbian-Canadian whose parents took the family away a year before civil war in the early 1990s; Scott, a Quebecois whose mom worked in the Air Canada real estate department for 38 years; Nishant from India, who studied at Virginia Tech before McGill; Chris from Philadelphia; Mai from Tokyo, who worked for Nissan in brand management and who lived in San Francisco as a young child; and several of the other Japanese students.  The chat with Mai was interesting and at the end a bit troubling, after she told me “my grandparents were at Hiroshima and got bombed.”  Whew.  But she was so matter of fact, smiling, as if to say “stuff happens.”  She told me both grandparents were healthy throughout their long lives, and grandma is still alive.  Whew, again.


Old frame, new wheels


At seven, I hopped back on the Bixi, east on the Maisonneuve bikeway to the Latin Quarter and one of my favorite places, Saint-Houblon (literally St. Hops, as in the beer flavorant), a bar with a dozen craft beers from Quebec and some simple but refined cooking.  I sat at one of the large communal tables in the center of the main floor.  Across from me, four young people were chatting and I overheard them wondering about “loonies and toonies” (Canadian for their $1 and $2 coins).  It was a T-t-S opening, and I jumped in.

They were lawyers from the U.S. in Montreal for a meeting of the Young Lawyers Division of the American Bar Association.  One from South Dakota (with her non-lawyer boyfriend), one from Hawaii, one from, well, I forget.  Beth from Sioux Falls was closest to me, and we chatted a lot across a bunch of topics, of course including Linda’s work and career.  It was a wonderful half-hour.  After they left, I walked over and said hello to the young fellow who was my waiter on my last visit six months earlier.  He remembered me. “Yes.  You were sitting on the same stool . . . You are a teacher, non?”  As on my previous visits, I looked around and quickly concluded that I was the oldest person in the house by at least 30 years.  I enjoyed a couple of beers and tucked into a wonderful plate of rabbit meatballs on homemade spinach pasta.  By the end of the meal, I was plumb wore out: it would be hard to imagine a day when I experienced more human interaction.  But I had to ride a mile or so home, so I did.


More public art, and in this case participative: 21 Swings, described as “an exercise in musical cooperation; read the story here

Thursday was well and truly a day off.  I could have taken morning flights home, but I am slowly learning not to rush off (it’s taken awhile!).  So I donned bike shorts and some warm layers on top (it was 40° F) and hopped on a Bixi, coasting down the hill and headed for Ile-des-Soeurs (Nuns’ Island) in the St. Lawrence.  Unhappily, access to the island was limited to way-busy streets choked with trucks and cars, so I pointed the bike toward the wonderful bikeways that line both sides of the historic Lachine Canal.  A much more pleasant ride north and east to Old Montreal, up the hill, and back to the hotel, stopping for breakfast at – where else – Tim Horton’s.  The line was long, but as I waited I conjured the thought I have every time I’m in Tim’s: every single one of the Canadians in the place have health insurance, recognized as a basic human right (coincidentally, later that day, “my” House of Representatives voted to repeal major parts of the Affordable Care Act, which wasn’t even close to Canada’s model of universal coverage).


External stairways are a distinct feature of Montreal row houses; more on the phenomenon here


Old Montreal is full of wonderful buildings like this

I showered, changed clothes, worked a bit, and still had plenty of time before I needed to head to the airport, so I hopped on the Bixi again, retracing my earlier route and going a bit further along the canal.  It had warmed up, and lots of people were out strolling and cycling.  At noon I grabbed my suitcase and ambled down St.-Mathieu to lunch at Pho Nguyen, a Vietnamese hole-in-the-wall.  Tucked into a small bowl of pho, grilled chicken, salad, yum!  Jumped on the #747 bus to the airport, flew to Philadelphia, then home.  A great trip.


Five days after posting this entry, the Montreal Gazette published my essay on 50 years of travel to that city; you can read it here.



New housing in new and recycled buildings along Lachine Canal


Just a piece of the growing skyline; when I snapped this pic, I remembered my common refrain for U.S. conservatives: they don’t seem to have trouble keeping the lights on in this social democracy . . .


And the last word: your scribe at the dais in the Canadiens’ press conference venue!

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Philadelphia and London


The view from my room at London Business School

Second-quarter travel began April 3, with a short flight to Philadelphia.  Standing on the airport rail platform waiting for the train into the city, a young Cornell student asked about fare payment.  Philadelphia’s SEPTA public-transit system is still in the 19th Century, cash only, no ticket machines, and while she was asking about nearby ATM machines, I remembered the Venmo app I now had on my iPhone (thanks to Jack and Robin), another one of the cool new ways to send and receive money.  I offered to front her $8 in cash and she could pay me back via Venmo.  A few minutes later, she said she was having trouble with the app, so after we got on the train I gave her my business card and said email me and I’d send an address for the eight bucks.  She didn’t look like a scammer – Indian-American electrical engineering student at Cornell – but, well, I got taken for a ride.  That’ll happen to trusting folk.

I hopped off at University City station and ambled a few blocks north, across the edge of the University of Pennsylvania campus, to my digs.  In four or five previous appearances in Prof. Americus Reed’s MBA branding classes, he welcomed me to a comfy basement room in his house, but this time he had budget he needed to spend, so I checked in at the Inn at Penn, a quite posh place.  Met Americus for dinner and a good catch-up.  He’s a way-interesting guy, with a full schedule of research, consulting, and teaching, the kind of guy who can get along with four hours of sleep.  Whew.  Toward the end of the dinner, conversation turned to the new administration in Washington, and Professor Reed said that he found the current national situation sad; sad, too, he said to see the U.S. brand diminished in the world.  Yep.

Up early Tuesday morning, literally across the hall to the hotel gym, breakfast, then a nice amble around campus, through the place that changed my life when I joined a summer Wharton postdoc program in 1983.  I still remember the call from Linda, telling me I had cleared the waiting list; I was in a Colorado hotel room, and I felt like a helium balloon, floating upward.

I taught a morning class, and at noon we ambled a couple of blocks to the White Dog Café and lunch with Pat Rose, one of the people who 34 years earlier admitted me to Penn.  We’ve stayed in touch through the years, and it was great to catch up with her.  Hustled back, taught an afternoon class, worked a bit in Americus’ office, then peeled off.  At four, I met one of my Penn classmates, Jim Cohen, with whom I reconnected a year earlier.  The rain had stopped, and we sat on the patio of The New Deck Tavern, opened 1933, and covered a bunch of topics (I especially liked the discussion of algorithms for self-driving cars, and how to write code to make ethical decisions).  Jim was within weeks of retiring, and as he described it, “the universe just realigned” with him securing a great gig, playing slide guitar in a Linda Ronstadt tribute band.  Jim then he broke into harmony: “you’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good, baby you’re no good.”  Wonderful!


Jim Cohen, Wharton classmate, successful business owner, and professional slide guitarist


Philly is much more vertical nowadays; below, scenes from the Penn campus

I was headed back to the airport by train, and on the way to the U City station I detoured to a walkway bordered with memorable quotations about women at Penn, including this: “My mother, a 1930 Penn grad, remembers being chased out of class by a male professor who shouted at her “I don’t teach women.”  We’re progressing, albeit slowly sometimes.  I then detoured to the statue of Benjamin Franklin, founder of the university in 1740; on the plaque was a quote from his colleague Washington, who described Ben: “Venerated for benevolence, admired for talents, esteemed for patriotism, beloved for philanthropy.”

Flew to London Heathrow, hopped on the express train and the Tube, and in no time was in South London for a meeting with the founder of Entrepreneur First, a very cool company that helps start-ups start up.  I met Matt Clifford two months earlier at a conference in Oxford, and it turned out that my young London pal Scott Sage knows him, so we three gathered for a chat.  Their offices were in the former Peek Freans biscuit (cookie) factory in Bermondsey, a nice bit of recycling.  The yak was simply fascinating, ranging cross a bunch of topics that aimed toward the future.  When we left, I told Scott that I’d relish a conversation like that every morning, to keep our minds fresh and open.


The low hum of brainpower at Entrepreneur First

Scott and I walked to the Tube, and rode across town to Baker Street.  He headed to a conference and I walked a few blocks to London Business School for my annual visit to Europe’s best.  Like 2016, they offered a modest room in a sort-of-dorm adjacent to the school, but this year it was truly a room with a view, a gorgeous window framing Regents Park.  I changed clothes, washed my face, took a 20-minute nap, and headed out for an afternoon on London’s great bike share system.  Did several loops around Regents Park, past the giraffes of the London Zoo and the posh homes fronting the greenery.

Wandered a bit more, then, perfectly timed for the start of rush hour (not!), I headed to the Stephen Friedman Gallery, where Eleanor Crabtree, the daughter of longtime chum John Crabtree, works.  It was totally spur of the moment, and when I got there she recognized my name but not me, because the last time I saw her was, I think, 1991!  Notwithstanding the sort-of-ambush, she was charming, and took time to show me around the two large gallery spaces on opposite sides of Old Burlington Street in Mayfair.  I rode back to LBS, worked my email a bit, then headed out for a pint and early dinner in nearby Camden.  Was asleep before 9:30, dozing hard.


Sculptures from German artist Stephan Balkenhol, who carved the figure and the base together from a single piece of wood.

Up Thursday morning, out the door to find breakfast fixings, back to the room, work a bit, then at 11:30 I gave a talk to the school’s Marketing Club.  LBS is global on steroids, and after the talk I ate a sandwich and visited for an hour with my host from India, plus youngsters from Ukraine, Russia, Japan, China, Brazil, and even Michigan.   It got me thinking that I may need a new abbreviation, WJMP, What the Jet Makes Possible, shorthand like T-t-S.  From 2:30 to 3:30 I gave a talk on airline revenue management to Oded Koenigsberg’s MBA class (Oded, an Israeli, is one of my fave hosts).  After class, the plan was to head across town to the new Design Museum in Kensington, but one of the students, Patrick, wanted to continue the conversation.


London’s blue plaques, marking history, are legendary; I somehow had never noticed this one before, close to the Baker Street station (SOE was the World War II entity in charge of espionage and sabotage); all of us are pretty happy the Telemark mission succeeded.

I’m glad I said yes.  After changing out of my suit, Patrick and I ambled toward the Baker Street Tube station and zipped into a Pret for a mango smoothie and a long yak.  He’s 35, a retired British Army captain (son of a lifer and brother of an officer who lost many of his charge in Afghanistan).  Super-interesting fellow.


The view from the bar at the Woodins Shades in Bishopsgate

At about five I hopped on the Tube to Liverpool Street station, paused for a pint at an atmospheric (and jammed) pub, bought some sandwiches for dinner, and got on the train for Harwich and the ferry to The Netherlands, once again to avoid paying the confiscatory UK departure tax (ransom).   The Stena Line boat was much more crowded than on previous crossings.  On arrival in Hoek van Holland, a bit of stress, because the train line was closed, so had to hop a bus to near Rotterdam.  Happily, road traffic was light, and happier still was a Talking-to-Strangers encounter with a Dutch couple who owned a small organic livestock farm in Norwich (England), raising 25 Shorthorn cattle and pigs, selling directly to a local butcher, the kind of direct agriculture that is slowly taking root.  We talked about the benefits of clear provenance (I kept thinking that people might say “Well, Bessie sure is tasty,” or “that haunch of Wilfred hit the spot”).  It was a lovely bus ride, more so because respectful Dutch teenagers gave up their seats so the couple, I would guess in their mid-70s, could sit down.


Tight fit: trucks on the ferry

Hopped on the train at Schiedam, changed at Rotterdam Centraal, and in no time was at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.  Along the way, as I always do, I admired how the Dutch manage water, zipped past huge greenhouse complexes, spotted old windmills in the distance, and smiled at how their language is sort of like ours: Calamiteitendoorgang = emergency exit!


Ships, trains, and planes: the thriftier way home!


The Netherlands from above

Flew to Philadelphia, down to Washington, and had Henry and MacKenzie on their leashes by 6:30.


A bit of inspiration at Philadelphia airport: the truths are indeed self-evident, but we’re still working on the equality part.

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Farewell to the Circus


[Once in awhile, I’ve motivated to post a thought or experience unrelated to my mobile life.]

On Saturday, April 1, granddaughters Dylan and Carson, wife Linda, and I drove to downtown Washington to see the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.  After 146 years of continuous service, delighting millions of people, especially children, “The Greatest Show on Earth” was folding the tent, and we watched one of the last performances of the farewell tour.  Before we left home, I told Linda I was likely to cry at the end.  I did.  I wept in the middle, too, and now, five days later, as I write this.

We knew it was the end.  The New York Times delivered the bad news some months ago.  On the circus website, CEO Kenneth Feld wrote, “After much evaluation and deliberation, my family and I have made the difficult business decision that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey will hold its final performances in May of this year. Ringling Bros. ticket sales have been declining, but following the transition of the elephants off the road, we saw an even more dramatic drop. This, coupled with high operating costs, made the circus an unsustainable business for the company.”

The last show, themed “Out of This World,” was the sensational mix of acts (minus the beloved elephants) that made it “the Greatest Show on Earth” for decades.  The performers were not digital compositions nor recorded and replayed in front of us, but talented, committed, sentient fellow human beings who clearly loved what they did.  We applauded the clown; the aerialists; the Torres family from Paraguay with their motorcycle ballet inside a metal sphere; big-cat trainer Alexander Lacey; and so many more.

But as much as their dazzling work made us smile, I kept getting sad.  Sad because I had been attending the circus for more than 50 years, and taking children and grandchildren almost every year for nearly 3 decades.  Sad because live entertainment is so special, so different from the stuff on screens small and large.   Sad because a whole lot of folks will lose their jobs — not just the performers and their support teams, but food vendors and ushers, and others who depend on the circus.  What will happen to the Kazakh horse riders?  The clowns?  We can hope many will find other work, but perhaps not.

And I’m mad, at the people and groups who helped bring down a great institution.  If our granddaughters hadn’t been with us, I would have been inclined to put a cream pie in the face of the PETA jerks who were protesting, the self-righteous carrying signs that said “Ringling beats animals.” As a precedent matter, it seems counterintuitive that circus people would mistreat the animals on which they depend; indeed, there’s a rich array of fiction and nonfiction literature documenting the special bonds between circus animals and their keepers.

Our relationship with other species in the animal kingdom is complex, and PETA tries to pretend otherwise.  I am no deep ethical philosopher, but given the growing volume of research on social interaction in plant communities (see, for example, The Hidden Life of Trees) and the possibility of sentience in individual living flora, it seems pretty hard to draw distinctions, except on simplistic lines (e.g., the cuter the animal, the easier it is to defend; no one cares much about maggots).  As I am fond of saying to pre-empt the discussion, “carrots have feelings, too.”

As I wiped back tears, I wanted to jump onto the show floor to thank even just one performer for all the times that their work and that of their colleagues enriched our lives over all the years.


The last appearance of the Ringling Bros. elephants, 2016


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